Connie Culp, the first US recipient of a partial face transplant, died at age 57, according to Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, where she underwent the delicate operation nearly 12 years ago.
The health centre listed no cause of death in its tweet on Friday (July 31), quoting one of her doctors, Frank Papay, as saying she was a “great pioneer.”
“Her decision to undergo a sometimes-daunting procedure is an enduring gift for all humanity,” added Papay, head of the clinic’s dermatology and plastic surgery institute.
Survivors of face transplants have to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives, which can take a toll on their health.
Here are some other cases of face transplants in the world.
1. ‘THE MAN WITH THREE FACES’
Jerome Hamon underwent his second face transplant in a Paris hospital in January 2018. “I feel very well in myself,” he told reporters in April 2018.
“I can’t wait to get rid of all this,” he added, speaking with difficulty of all the major treatment he has undergone to become the first man to have received two face transplants.
This unprecedented feat was painstakingly carried out by the staff at the Georges-Pompidou European Hospital in Paris, and Laurent Lantieri, a professor of plastic surgery, who led the team through the multi-step procedure.
It was a strange reunion for patient and doctor as it was Lantieri who carried out the world’s first full face transplant, including tear ducts and eyelids, on Hamon at a hospital outside Paris in July 2010.
Hamon suffers from neurofibromatosis type 1, a genetic mutation which causes severely disfiguring tumours and related complications.
His first face transplant in 2010 was a success. But that same year – in order to treat nothing more than a common cold – he was given an antibiotic incompatible with his immunosuppressive treatment.
In 2016 he began to display signs of transplant rejection, and his new face deteriorated. In 2017, Hamon was hospitalised and in November that year his face, suffering from necrosis, had to be removed. He remained in hospital without a face for two months, a very difficult time, while a compatible donor was sought.
2. US WOMAN IS YOUNGEST PERSON TO GET FACE TRANSPLANT
Ms Katie Stubblefield was just 18 when she attempted suicide by putting a hunting rifle below her chin and shooting herself.
She survived the shooting but her suicide attempt put her on a journey to become the youngest person in the United States to receive a face transplant.
In 2018, when she turned 22, she was featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine’s September issue, in a piece titled “The Story of a Face”.
She was also featured in National Geographic’s full-length documentary Katie’s Face.
According to a report by CNN, Ms Stubblefield suffered several problems in the days leading up to her suicide.
She had chronic gastrointestinal problems which she had to undergo surgery for, she had just broken up with her then-boyfriend, and her mother was abruptly fired from teaching at the same school that she attended.
At an all-time low, Ms Stubblefield made the decision to kill herself.
Ms Stubblefield lost parts of her forehead, her nose and sinuses, most of her mouth, and the bones that make up her jaw and structures of her face. Her eyes remained but they were badly damaged, news reports said.
3. SHE RECEIVED WORLD’S FIRST PARTIAL FACE TRANSPLANT
The recipient of the world’s first partial face transplant, Ms Isabelle Dinoire, died at the age of 49 in April 2016 “after a long illness”.
In 2005, Ms Dinoire, then 38, received a graft comprising the nose, lips and chin of a brain-dead donor to replace parts of her face that had been mauled by her dog.
In 2015, French newspaper Le Figaro reported that her body had rejected the transplant “and she had lost part of the use of her lips”.
The report added that the drugs she had to take to prevent her body from rejecting the transplant left her susceptible to cancer, and two cancers had developed.
The transplant operation was controversial at the time, as surgeons Dr Jean-Michel Dubernard and Dr Bernard Devauchelle had chosen not to conduct traditional reconstructive surgery before carrying out the transplant.
4. COSTLY SURGERY AFTER SHOT IN THE FACE
This was one of the most extensive face transplants ever attempted.
Mr Richard Norris had accidentally shot himself in the face with a shotgun in 1997 when he was 22. He was so disfigured that no amount of conventional surgery would help.
Fifteen years later, a 21-year-old man was killed in a traffic accident and his grieving family donated his face to Mr Norris.
After a procedure that took 36 hours and involved 150 doctors and nurses at the University of Maryland Medical Centre, he received a new face.
It included two to three inches of the donor’s hairline, forehead, eyebrows, nose, cheekbones, jaw, lips, teeth and tongue.
“For the past 15 years I lived as a recluse hiding behind a surgical mask and doing most of my shopping at night when fewer people were around,” he said in a statement months after the surgery.
“I can now go out and not get the stares and have to hear the comments that people would make… I am now able to walk past people and no one even gives me a second look.”
In 2015, Mr Norris met his donor’s sister for the first time. Their meeting was captured on video by news programme 60 Minutes Australia.
5. US FIREFIGHTER INJURED IN BLAZE
Before undergoing a complex face transplant surgery in 2015, doctors told Mr Patrick Hardison that he had a 50-50 chance of success.
The medical team had practised for a year before the surgery. “You only have one chance to land the Rover. The same goes with the face,” said the plastic surgeon who led the operation.
Finally, after a 26-hour operation, Mr Hardison received a full scalp and face, including ears, nose, lips and upper and lower eyelids.
More than 100 doctors, nurses and medical support staff were involved in the surgery at the NYU Langone Medical Centre.
His donor was 26-year-old David Rodebaugh, a BMX extreme bicycling enthusiast who was pronounced brain dead after a cycling accident.
Mr Hardison, 42, was a volunteer firefighter in Mississippi when the roof of a burning home collapsed on top of him in 2001.
He lost his eyelids, eyes, lips, most of his nose and his hair. He also had disfiguring third-degree burns across his face, head, neck and upper torso. His skin was so badly damaged that he was not even able to close his eyes completely, according to reports.
In August, Mr Hardison marked the first anniversary of the surgery. He said in a press conference that he feels normal again and even managed to swim for the first time in 15 years.
6. POLISH MAN’S LIFE-SAVING TRANSPLANT
In 2013, a 33-year-old Polish man’s life was saved after a face transplant was performed just weeks after his face was torn off in a workplace accident.
The procedure is believed to mark the fastest time-frame between needing a transplant and getting an operation, reported the BBC. Previous transplants required months or years to prepare.
Initially, doctors tried to reattach the man’s own face. But their efforts failed and part of the area close to his brain was left exposed. To save his life, the man, who is known only as Grzegorz, underwent a face transplant.
The surgery took 27 hours and reconstructed the man’s face, jaws, palate and bottom of his eye sockets.
Six days after the surgery, he was photographed making a thumbs-up gesture from his hospital bed.